Catherine McAuley was born in County Dublin in Ireland in 1778. While little Catherine was very young she was impressed by her father’s charity and generosity to the poor people of her time. She often accompanied him to distribute gifts of food, money and clothes to those who needed it most. However he died when she was still young.
When Catherine was almost twenty her mother died leaving the family without money. Catherine went to live with her Catholic uncle for a short time but eventually she went to live with her brother and sister at her relatives who were Protestants.
Sometime later Catherine went to live with and work for Mr and Mrs Callaghan. They were not Catholic but were very impressed with Catherine’s hard work, and the time she spent helping and caring for the poor. When Mr and Mrs Callahan died Catherine inherited the equivalent of two (2) million Australian dollars. Catherine could have enjoyed a life of luxury and travel spending all the money on herself, however with this money she could now help many people who were poor and sick.
Catherine opened the House of Our Lady of Mercy in Dublin on the 24th September 1827 (the feast day of Our Lady of Mercy). This house provided a place for poor women and children to receive shelter and food with the children having the opportunity to attend school.
Catherine did not intend on forming a religious order; on the contrary, her plan was to establish a society of ladies who would spend a few hours daily instructing the poor. Her parish informed the Bishop of the wonderful work she and her companions were doing. The Bishop visited the House (Baggot Street) and encouraged Catherine and her companions to become Sisters seeing that they were already doing the work. The 12th December 1831, was a very important date. It was on this day that the Sisters of Mercy formed their new congregation. Soon after this Mercy Houses were opened in Ireland and England.
By the time Catherine died she had established many Mercy communities who lived in simplicity and trust in God. Her grave has become a pilgrim place for sisters of Mercy and their friends from all over the world.
Catherine’s attitude to education was very simple: she wished to empower poor people and others to lead happy, fulfilling lives. She supported these objectives not just by her words, but led by example. She was certain that “we learn more by example than by precept (instruction),” and that the testimony of a teacher’s own example, manner, and values is the most credible instruction.
Catherine was noted for her courageous fight for the poor, the lonely, the abused and depressed. That is what we are called to do today.
Mercy Sister Ursula Frayne was the pioneer educator, welfare worker and advocate for the poor and needy of our land here in Australia. Ursula’s willingness to travel 25 000km crossing the seas and continent to bring Mercy to those most in need in Australia becomes a source of inspiration for all of us and that we, too, might ‘hold out our hands to the poor’. (Proverbs, 31:20)
First arriving in Perth, Australia in 1846, the Sisters of Mercy kept the Mercy tradition of service to the poor, establishing schools, teacher training schools and schools for nursing education. Some 15 years later five Sisters of Mercy accompanied Bishop O’Quinn when he became the first Bishop of Brisbane and Queensland.
In 1873 representatives of the Sisters of Mercy moved to Rockhampton, with 4 sisters later sailing from Brisbane to Mackay and residing on the site which we now know as St. Patrick’s College. They established an orphanage in Bucasia, followed by the acquisition of the Ormond Hospital (Mater Misericordiae) in 1927.
By 1930 convents and schools had been established all around Mackay, including South Mackay, Marian, Walkerston and Sarina, including a boarding school at St. Patrick’s. St. Patrick’s Christian Brothers College was set up for boys and St. Patrick’s convent High School for girls.
In 1968 Our Lady of Mercy Convent High School was opened for girls in Penn Street and later changing to Our Lady of Mercy College (OLMC). In 1987, both St. Patrick’s college and Our Lady of Mercy College became coeducational with another name change to Mercy College.
Although we do not have many direct links with the Sisters of Mercy today, the Mercy values are firmly fostered within the College and we believe the spirit of Venerable Catherine McAuley is alive in our college and she would be pleased with the vision of the college to continually live out its mission “To Serve Christ.”
We pay tribute to the Mercy Sisters for their courageous, compassionate, humble and patient service to members past and present of our school community.